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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Protest After Shock Le Pen Vote

PARIS -- Spontaneous protests broke out throughout France after extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen advanced to the runoff election for French president, with some demonstrators in Paris throwing rocks and bottles at riot police, who retaliated with tear gas.

Protesters in a crowd of 10,000 in Paris shouted "Right and left, united against Le Pen!" and "Le Pen, fascist!" Several hastily written signs held aloft by protesters Sunday read simply: "I am ashamed."

Shock at France's election results was reflected in French newspapers Monday, a day after the first-round vote. The leftist Lib?ration newspaper's front page showed a photo of Le Pen with an enormous one-word headline: "No." Conservative Le Figaro's headline read, "The Earthquake."

The 73-year-old Le Pen, who once called the Nazi gas chambers "a detail in history," benefited from the huge field of candidates that split the vote, an apathetic electorate and a wave of anti-crime fervor to edge past Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. An estimated 28 percent of the electorate stayed away from the polls, possibly giving Le Pen supporters a greater percentage clout.

Most of the protests late Sunday and early Monday were calm, but some demonstrators threw rocks and overturned barricades in clashes with riot police near Paris' Place de la Concorde. They were dispersed by riot police lobbing tear gas.

A group of several hundred broke away and rampaged on a Left Bank avenue, smashing some bus stops and shop and restaurant windows. They also threw bottles and stones at police, who pushed back the crowd with tear gas. Police were seen taking dozens of protesters into custody.

Similar demonstrations took place in other French cities, including Lille, Marseille, Nantes, Toulouse, Montpellier, Grenoble, Strasbourg and Clermont-Ferrand.

The protests began late Sunday after the results of the first round of the presidential election showed that Le Pen qualified for the May 5 runoff against conservative President Jacques Chirac -- a major upset.

Le Pen, who virulently opposes immigration and has been accused during his long political career of racism and anti-Semitism, was in second place with more than 99 percent of the vote counted. He defeated Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who was third and had been widely expected to qualify for the second round.

At around 11 p.m. Sunday, with about half the votes counted, a shaken-looking Jospin went on television to announce that if early results showing Le Pen ahead held up, he would retire from political life.

Sunday's results should make it far easier for the 69-year-old Chirac to win re-election. Polls suggest that Le Pen, a former paratrooper, is a long way from winning over the majority of French voters. In fact, his candidacy could mobilize large numbers of left-leaning voters to support the Gaullist Chirac. Even before the final votes were tallied, leading Socialists were saying they would urge their supporters to ensure Le Pen's defeat and preserve "the honor of France."

Politicians and commentators formed an international queue Monday to condemn the election advance of Le Pen, producing a rare near-consensus of disapproval across the political spectrum. "I hope that all democratic powers will unite against right-wing extremism and xenophobia," Sweden's Prime Minister Goran Persson said. (AP, LAT)